CCF’s insulation category group manager, Annemarie Shotton, explains the ramifications of bad building design and poor product specification, and highlights what lessons can be learnt from safety failings gone by.

The cost of not properly planning for a fire hazard can cost lives, as well as incur fines and the risk of imprisonment for those responsible. While these consequences are steep, unfortunately cases of non-compliance are discovered all the time.

A recent example of a fire which could have been slowed down, allowing occupants more time to escape, is the 2009 Southwark Council tower block blaze. The investigation has now come to a conclusion and officials have been fined £570,000 for their failures, which contributed to the deaths of six people who were trapped inside.

To prevent the rapid spread of fire in buildings, designers and contractors have a duty to follow the Building Regulations and Regulatory Reform Order (Fire), which work together to protect occupants. Manufacturers and distributors can help to ensure the correct products are specified and give proof of traceability to national standards. Retrospective checking can mean that even after this process, buildings could not be signed off if errors are found – so it is important to get it right first time.

Considering the Southwark Council case, it is clear to see that a number of fatal errors were allowed to go by unnoticed: the failure to make a fire risk assessment, which allowed breaches of fire-resistant structures; the lack of compartmentation in the false ceiling structures of common corridors; and other simple steps, such as fitting intumescent strips and smoke seals around doors.

For those in the construction industry, including specifiers, architects and designers who must ensure plans properly factor fire risks, to the contractors and installers who rely on manufacturers and distributors to ensure that the correct products, such as smoke and fire barriers, fire-rated boards and more are traceable to national standards, we can all recognise the burden of not choosing quality at every stage of the supply chain. Therefore, it is the responsibility of us all to make sure fire safety is at the forefront of what we do.

Annemarie Shotton
CCF Insulation category group manager